Lucy Williams, Marketing Development Officer for Visit Dornoch

Finding out more about the Dornoch Whisky Festival

Lucy William

Really looking forward to learning a whole lot more about Lucy Williams, who alongside being, Marketing Development Officer for Visit Dornoch, is also involved in setting up the Dornoch Whisky Festival which is held 28th – 30th October and overseeing many events which will be taking place while also showcasing how beautiful Dornoch is and what it has to offer.

How long have you been working for Visit Dornoch?

I have been working for Visit Dornoch for a year and a half. I do the Marketing and Promotion for Dornoch and the surrounding area.

Can you tell us a bit about your background? What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I grew up in the South of England and moved to Scotland when I married my husband who grew up near Dornoch.  I fell in love with the area the first time I visited, totally bowled over by its beauty as well as the friendly locals.

Since moving here nearly ten years ago I have enjoyed exploring the Northern Highlands and spreading the word about this part of the country so it has been a real joy to have a job where I get to promote the area for a living!

You must promote a lot of Visit Dornoch Events, which is your personal favourite? 

Last year’s Whisky Festival was really exciting as it was the beginning of something completely new for the town.  We are very central on the Whisky Trail which runs from Inverness to Wick (which included Glen Ord, Dalmore, Glenmorangie, Balblair, Clynelish and Old Pulteney) so Dornoch makes an ideal location for a festival to celebrate these local distilleries.

Why (aside from the whisky festival which we will come to shortly) should people visit Dornoch?

Dornoch by night
Dornoch by night

Dornoch itself is a quiet cathedral town with a world class golf course (#1 in Scotland, #5 in the World) an award winning beach, a lovely range of independent shops and fantastic places to eat and stay.

From Dornoch you can explore the entire Northern Highlands in day trips: Ullapool and the west coast, Durness and the north coast, Caithness, Cromarty, Inverness… there is so much to see and do!

What are your favourite things to in and around Dornoch?

The beach has to be my number one favourite, miles and miles of sand, big skies and fantastic rock pools for the children, what more could you want!

There are also some great independent cafes in the town and I try and do the majority of my Christmas shopping in Dornoch too.

Do you have any “hidden gems” you could recommend, favourite, bar, restaurant or night out?

The area boasts a hidden music scene which emerges quite regularly in village halls across the county.  You can often find world class musicians playing in tiny venues (Often organised by local music enthusiasts ‘Sutherland Sessions’.

Dornoch itself has regular live music in the Castle, Dornoch Inn and Eagle Hotel. Clashmore Hall is well known for its plays and ceilidhs and can you often find a band playing in Ardross, Bonar Bridge, Lairg, Rosehall, Ullapool and Portmahomack.

So my ideal night out would be a great meal in one of the many fantastic places to eat in Dornoch and then to catch band in one of the many venues locally.

Would you recommend Dornoch as somewhere to live?  Is there a particular age group you think it’s suitable for, or is there something for everyone?

I would absolutely recommend the Dornoch area as somewhere to live.  It is a fantastic place to be.

You are constantly surrounded by the most stunning scenery and wildlife, you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and yet can get to a supermarket or train station in 10 minutes or even to Inverness airport in an hour!

I truly believe there is something for everyone in Dornoch, It is fantastic for children and adults alike. A great place to live and work.

This year Dornoch will play host to its own whisky festival, and although the first year took place in 2015, this year really sees the festival come into its own, tell us a bit about the festival?

The idea behind the festival is to celebrate the distilleries local to Dornoch.

We also have the famous Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar, The Dornoch Distillery and the Carnegie Whisky cellars here so are a fantastic place to base a Whisky Festival.

Throughout the weekend there will be tastings and tours at the distilleries, masterclasses and tastings in venues around Dornoch, Whisky themed meals, a Whisky themed golf match and our very own Gala tasting event at the Dornoch Castle on Saturday 29th.

We are very excited that Whisky legend, Charles Maclean, will be joining us and hosting a few events during the festival. He will be around during the Gala Tasting on the Saturday to meet and greet everyone who is attending.

It’s great to see a whisky festival which actually includes access to distilleries as well as tastings. Where did the inspiration for the whisky festival come from?

We wanted to build on the success that the Dornoch Castle Whisky bar has had in terms of drawing Whisky tourists in from the North Coast 500 route (only 3 miles from Dornoch).

We are central six local distilleries as I mentioned above and so it seemed like we could start something really special, giving people the opportunity to visit a number of distilleries, sample many different whiskies and get involved in other Whisky related events all on one weekend.

Dornoch has a full calendar of events throughout the summer months and it is nice to have something for people to look forward to in the autumn months.

There are many events throughout the Whisky Festival, which events really stand out as “unmissable”?

The number one event for me is the Gala Tasting, 12pm until 4pm on Saturday 29th October. We have a wide range of distilleries attending and so people will be able to try many different whiskies all in one place.

There will be a chocolate and Whisky pairing masterclass (run by Whisky Corner) great food and other stalls selling cake and even one selling whisky scented candles!

There will be several distilleries that are usually closed opening their doors to the public, which is very special indeed, with Teaninich opening their doors and a VIP weekend tour of the Brora Site, who took the decisions to host such special events with these distilleries?

Apart from members of Visit Dornoch, the core of the Whisky festival team is made up of Phil and Simon Thompson of the Dornoch Castle Hotel and Michael Hanratty from the Carnegie Whisky Cellars (along with the distilleries themselves and other local businesses involved).  It has been a collaborative effort between us all to make the programme as varied and exciting as possible and we are incredibly excited about the Teaninich and VIP Brora tours.

Charles Maclean is hosting a few events, and is a fantastic choice of whisky personality to be involved with the festival, why where you so keen to work with Charlie and have him take such a presence at the festival?

We were absolutely delighted when Charlie agreed to work with us at this year’s Dornoch Whisky Festival. He is a very experienced whisky taster and also an engaging person so we are sure he will add an extra special shine to the festival events.

Charles Maclean
Charles Maclean

Charles Maclean will be opening the Gala Tasting on Saturday at the stunning location of the Dornoch Castle Hotel, and excitingly, he will also be introducing and hand picking the winning tickets of guests who will then attend an exclusive masterclass held by ourselves, which will be a whisky and chocolate pairing, how excited are you about this event and just how “exclusive is this”?

I am incredibly excited about this event. Whisky corner are working with local distilleries and Cocoa Skye, a local chocolate producer to create a very exclusive Chocolate and Whisky pairing workshop. Only 25 lucky people (chosen at random on the day) will get a chance to attend this 45 minute workshop which will take place a 2pm. We can’t wait!

We have chosen to work with the local distilleries and a local chocolatier, how important is it to you that we showcase the very best Dornoch has to offer?

Dornoch has some very special local producers and to be able to showcase so many at the Gala Tasting is very important to us.  We host ‘community markets’ throughout the summer months which showcase the local produce available in the area which are always incredibly popular with tourists and locals alike.

For people interested in local food and drink, there is a fantastic event called ‘Taste North’ run by Venture North on the 9th October which will also be showing the best the area has to offer.

Although we are nowhere near as exciting as Charles Maclean, how important is it to the festival to work with Whisky Corner, and have that support to the Festival?  

We are so pleased to be working with Whisky Corner to help promote the festival. Their knowledge and contacts are helping to make the festival a success which will hopefully mean this year will be the first of many!

How many Distilleries/bottlers etc will be attending the Gala Tasting on the day?

There will be sixteen distilleries attending alongside other whisky related stalls. As the Gala Tasting takes place in the Dornoch Castle Hotel and next door to the Carnegie Whisky Cellars, you will also be able to try out the many whiskies they have available too!

How many people do you expect to attend the Gala Whisky Tasting Itself?

We have the capacity for 300 people, and with ticket sales going as well as they are, we are hopeful that the event will sell out, you can book tickets here. You heard the lady people, if you want to get tickets for this (which trust me, you do, you had better get a move on).  (Also keep your eyes peeled for details of our competition to get your hand on not one, but two tickets for the Gala Tasting, you lucky, lucky people.)

What is it that makes this festival different to the other festivals already established?

We have the added bonus of being able to send people out on distillery tours from the centre of Dornoch. All transport is included in the price of the ticket.

Can you talk us through the format of the whisky tasting?

Each person attending will receive a goody bag when they arrive which will include a map, a program, 20 vouchers and a glencairn glass.  You will then be able to work your way around the tent and try whichever whiskies you would like!  There will also be some gin available to try.

Can you explain how the voucher system works?

You take your voucher card to the table and the distillery will mark off the ones you have used. Most drams will be 1 0r 2 vouchers but some special drams may be up to 4 vouchers.  You can buy more vouchers on the day if you run out.

The distilleries themselves will be selling their bottles at the Festival at their own stands, this is quite unique, as usually there is a pop up shop at festivals, what was the reasoning behind making it more personal to the distillery and the customers themselves to buy directly at the stand?

We felt this would be a really nice touch as the customers get to discuss the whiskies directly with the distillers before they buy.

What other whisky related items will be showcased during the festival?

At the Gala Tasting there will be chocolates, cakes and candles for sale! During the Friday of the festival there is a whisky candle making workshop too!

Do people need to leave the Festival when they get peckish or will festival friendly food be served?

There will be a full range of food available at the festival including burgers, fish and chips and pasties.

Are you a whisky drinker yourself? If so what’s your favourite expression?

I am indeed and my favourite whisky is Laphroig. (Although I am also partial to Glenmorangie and Clynelish!)

Do you think the Dornoch Whisky Festival is good for the people and business of Dornoch?

Absolutely. We are hoping that lots of locals will want to get involved in the events during the weekend and that local businesses will benefit with the extra trade.

How much extra revenue to do you expect the Whisky Festival to bring to Dornoch?

We are hopeful that it will be enough to make the Whisky Festival viable in future years.

Thanks Lucy, I look forward to seeing you at some point over the weekend of the Whisky Festival and catching up over a dram!  See you soon.

Kirsty Clarke (@kirstyclarke29)

Everybody needs a Whisky Corner in their life.

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